World’s tallest rescue mission and unbalanced travel media
As a widely published travel writer and die-hard Himalayan aficionado, I vividly remember my association with Nepal’s very first tourism campaign – The Visit Nepal Year 1998. I was then working for one of the major tour operators receptives from Nepal – Nepal Travel Information Center at their office based in New Delhi and despite my repeated requests for more advertisements and articles on Nepal as a destination for my bosses, the role of the media was underutilized and this neglect media, in my opinion, is still prevalent in 2020s Nepal.
How many of us, especially in the travel media, are even aware of a stupendous feat that has been accomplished by a Sherpa and one of the world’s most remarkable mountaineers – Ang Tshering Lama and his team who, on June 21, 2017, successfully led the world’s highest rescue mission to Mount Everest? Where were the media? Where were the “Breaking News” reporters who should have informed the waiting world?
Well, I have looked forward to 3 long years and have carefully observed the role of travel media in the Indian subcontinent. Needless to say, the subcontinent media are lacking in the very journalists who actually serve them.
In 1953, the whole world was stunned by the press battle to report on the first successful ascent of Mount Everest when Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first set foot on the highest point on planet Earth. Why and what prevented the travel media from spreading the historic feat of Ang Tshering Lama and his team of qualified Sherpas who managed to carry out the highest mountain rescue operation in the world on June 21, 2017?
A travel journalist for two decades, I myself would have been completely oblivious to this magnificent feat of mountaineering if I hadn’t accidentally surfed through the National Geographic website 6 months later? Too bad?
the National Geographic quotes – “Ang Tshering Lama, founder of Angs Himalayan Adventures, and a group of sherpas helped prevent the death toll from increasing by two on June 21, 2017. With their combined expertise and courage, the guides helped rescued two dangerously disabled climbers and brought them down unharmed from the mountain ”.
And here’s the web link – this amazing video footage of Ang and his team of Sherpas –
“Watch: Everest climbers’ lives saved by chance encounter. “
As my curiosity grew, I made a few phone calls to Ang’s adventure company in Kathmandu – https://www.angshimalayanadventures.com/ and other surprises awaited me – courteous staff told me that Ang is in the mountains and has just reached the top of Mount Everest, this time with two Sherpa widows on May 23, 2019.
Let me recreate the press scenario surrounding the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953, namely a report by BBC journalist – Rhodri owen. She said – “With perfect timing, on the morning of Tuesday, June 2, the coronation day in London of Queen elizabeth ii, Time newspaper published its correspondent that of James Morris dispatch from the mountain describing the success of the expedition ”.
Another authoritative source of the valuable role of the press in the conquest of Mount Everest in 1953 is the Manchester goalkeeper cover titled – “Everest 1953: A New Gem, Timely and Shining”.
Manchester goalkeeper quotes – “News of the triumph made headlines in the Manchester Guardian a few days later, on June 2, the day before the Queen’s coronation. The newspaper, after hailing this great achievement as a “new, timely and shining jewel in the queen’s tiara,” concluded that the mountain “is by nature a terminal point … It is doubtful that anyone will ever try to climb Everest again. ‘
The gardians coverage of the epic summit was so well planned that it would put the world’s most technologically advanced print and electronic media houses to shame. Whether it was the 1951 reconnaissance expedition, news related to the Yeti footprints, that of John Hunt appointment at the head of the expedition instead of Eric Shipton to the latest technological gadgets and mountain equipment …… It was the best in travel journalism!
Often the post-summit coverage is more important than the pre-summit and there too The Guardian was brilliant in terms of coverage, the post-1953 Everest summit through insightful editorials.
As travel journalists, we all have a duty to emphasize not only exotic destinations, events and festivals, but also to highlight stellar achievements in the world of tourism. And here’s a case the world should know and applaud – Ang Tshering Lama, the man of the mountains of Nepal, credited with several climbs to the top of Mount Everest, leading the highest in the world and may I add “the most dangerous rescue operation in the world” and leave aside the commitment of this unique sherpa for the Himalayas, its ecology and its own Sherpas are legends.
But somewhere, somewhere things are not what they should be. Particularly when it comes to the question of the role of the media in bringing to light mountaineering wonders. And I have every reason to complain that those sturdy native Sherpas weren’t properly recognized.
I have to quote a passionate mountaineer that of Robert Phelp comment, post-Ang Tshering Lama Mount Everest Rescue Operation – “As too often happens, these two owe their lives to the brave men who overcame a pile of obstacles in order to bring them back to their families. Every single person who made it to the top of Everest owes everything to the Sherpas, no one else.
Can we really say “I climbed”, when in reality they only followed a Sherpa, on a path smashed by a Sherpa, hanging on a rope fixed by a Sherpa, with equipment carried by a Sherpa or a Sherpa team? Can someone really say “I have climbed Everest”? I don’t think that’s possible without Sherpa’s ”…….
I followed the work of Cristen Conger – “How the Sherpas Work” where she states that – “The Sherpas lead a utilitarian existence, many of whom survive on commerce and subsistence farming”. Conger further reiterates: “The Sherpa’s ability to do such arduous work at higher altitudes with less oxygen has been a puzzling phenomenon for scientists.
In fact, some Sherpas have climbed Mount Everest without the extra oxygen supply which is the standard problem on most climbs. Although the exact reason why they are better suited has not been determined, studies have found that some Sherpas may have slightly more hemoglobin in their blood which carries oxygen to the tissues to fuel metabolism compared to to people who live at sea level ”.
An incredible feature of Sherpa life is the non-existence of wheels due in large part to the treacherous mountainous landscape, which means the complete absence of wheeled transportation, especially in the rarefied upper parts of the Himalayas. Can you imagine the difficulties involved? Any movement from one place to another is done either on foot or on the backs of Himalayan yaks. Surprising revelation! Is not it?
There are countless examples of Sherpas assisting alien mountaineers suffering from altitude sickness at rarefied heights without a soul being seen nearby. And they’ve done it together for centuries without any hassle, commercials or drama!
On the issue of recognizing the Sherpas for their acts of bravery, courage and heroism, as a traveling writer I feel that the media have so far played an unbalanced role and no ‘have not been belligerent enough when it comes to highlighting “Sherpa Pride”.
Mainstream media professionals as well as my travel media friends often ask me: Why can’t Himalayan travel journalism deliver quality? Isn’t it a shame that in today’s high-tech world of media reporting, we can’t speak to these unsung heroes of the Himalayas?
The case of Ang Tshering Lama and his rescue mission to the top of Mount Everest had all the makings of a hollywood thriller – suspense, drama and a perfect climax, which the travel media failed to capture and deliver on the world stage. It was a great opportunity to present the quintessential “Sherpa Pride” in all its glory on the altar of global tourism.
However, mountaineering will never go out of style as long as there are heroes like Ang Tshering Lama. The life of this Himalayan guy will leave you “breathless”.
Long live Sherpa pride.